Editorial: Public left out of decision on squirrelsIt may have made sense for the city of Menlo Park to eradicate the squirrel population at Mike Bedwell Bayfront Park last August, but it is difficult to understand why residents never were told about the action, either before or after the animals were poisoned.
In the scheme of things, getting rid of the squirrels, which were thought to be tunneling their way into the earthern landfill cap and dragging garbage to the top, was not an expensive proposition. At under $10,000, paid to a Morgan Hill company named Animal Damage Management Inc., the cost was small enough for Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens to OK without City Council approval.
But when the city is talking about placing a dangerous poison around pedestrian and biking trails in a popular park, the public should have been notified. And now that the squirrels have been removed, the contractor's employee who performed the job is on vacation and cannot be reached. Without his comment, it is not clear whether any poison remains in the burrows and is available to dogs or other animals that might be sniffing around the park, looking for squirrels. Nor is the number of squirrels killed known.
Mr. Steffen attributed the source of his concern about the squirrels to county health inspection reports.
"The city got comments on its quarterly reports that squirrel activity was very high and squirrels had actually penetrated the cap," Mr. Steffens told The Almanac.
But none of the reports examined by The Almanac stated that the squirrels were actually digging through the cap and bringing up litter from landfill, although they did say squirrel activity was high and that there was increased litter found at the park.
The county's director of environmental health, Dean Peterson, told The Almanac, "We have no evidence of the squirrels actually dragging trash to the surface at the Marsh Road sites."
He went on to explain that "the main concern with the ground squirrels, or any other burrowing animal, is that their burrows can damage the landfill cap. Caps are designed and installed to limit the amount of water entering a landfill and to control gas production — so an uncontrolled population of burrowing animals could eventually devastate the cap."
When asked how the city decided the squirrels were at fault for the park litter, Mr. Steffens said, "Well, we know because we followed up on it. When the problem was identified the city staff did its own investigation. ..."
Apparently, soon after it was decided to call in the exterminator. Perhaps this was the right decision to make, but nevertheless, the city owes residents, especially park users, an explanation of why the public was not notified, why the squirrels were eradicated, and more important, what poison was used and whether any residue remains that could be dangerous to pets and their masters.